By Chris Lambert, Principal Analyst, Digital Agency
Among the many topics of conversation in our office at Internet Broadcasting is “what does the future of news consumption look like?” Todd Carter, our chief technology officer, has argued for some time now that streams are becoming the preferred method of digital content consumption. With the astonishing growth rates of Twitter and Facebook, not to mention the dozens of other services that use a stream model of content display, it is becoming increasingly harder to argue against streams, or "rivers," as the future.
Recently, blogger and entrepreneur Dave Winer shared his take on rivers of news on his blog. His news river has multiple streams collecting and displaying news from different sources, organized in tabs by topic. What strikes me about this concept is the simplicity and usability of the presentation. It is not hard to see how this could become the preferred method of consumption for news. Two things strike me about this presentation, both of which are meaningful for the business model of digital news - how you would monetize rivers and what rivers can tell you about your audience.
There is a deep divide between Winer’s tabbed streams of news and the layout and appearance of a typical news website. Winer’s tabbed structure is incredibly user-friendly and certainly does not reflect the battle for homepage real estate that marks most news websites. What it is does do, however, is lend itself well to two things related to monetization.
First, it plays well with content marketing, which can be a huge benefit to news organizations from a monetization perspective. One of the struggles that devalues content marketing for many news websites is that given their current structure, good content marketing and display ads don’t play well together. It is often a one-or-the-other proposition if you want to extract full value for either method of advertising. Tabbed streams remove the either-or decision by making content marketing the more natural choice for in-stream advertising and moving display ads to out-of-stream placement.
Second, tabbed streams as presented by Winer provide ample opportunity for out-of-stream display, video and rich media advertising instead of destroying them. Creative use of available real estate for monetization could be very lucrative for news organizations looking to create experiences that are beneficial for both audiences and brands and raise the CPMs. Tabbed streams and the so-called “Rising Stars” of IAB look very symbiotic, which bodes well for advertisers, audiences and publishers. There is a lot of great space to create a lot of great ads. Creating this kind of real estate gives digital marketers something for which they have been longing for quite some time. It gives them ample space to be creative.
Knowing the Audience
One of the highest virtues of personalized tabbed streams or rivers of news may be what they allow you to learn about your audience, both contextually and behaviorally. By removing large amounts of variability in behavior, like vertical consumption versus horizontal and vertical consumption, tabbed streams allow you to learn about the preferences and behaviors of your audience much faster and iterate on their experience much more quickly. This means faster and better user experiences for your audience and more information about them that can help bolster CPMs and ad opportunities.
Personalization and contextualization are the Holy Grail of news websites and the next generation of content delivery in news. Tabbed streams or rivers of news have the promise of greatly simplifying and accelerating the move to personal and contextual consumption -- and, more importantly, making those features more accurate in terms of “getting it right.”
Rivers of news are promising from the user’s perspective. Often times, when a change marks an improvement for users, it is coupled by a major challenge for publishers. In this case, while there are certainly challenges to the existing models of digital news with tabbed rivers, I think there can be great promise, as well.